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Austin Chronicle Scanlines

FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 

Valley of the Dolls

D: Mark Robson (1967)

with Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Susan Hayward, Lee Grant

Tawdry, tarshy, and totally diviiiine! Valley of the Dolls is a hoot not to be missed

The definitive camp classic that raises more questions than it answers. Questions such as: Who did the pukey casting in this movie? Why are all the guys such weinies? Why are all those horrible musical numbers sooo long? Did the movie's hairdresser win an Oscar for his work? It grieves me to say that I cannot remember the first time I saw Valley of the Dolls - but it's been a part of my history for so long that we are virtually inseparable. It has provided me (and many other discriminating queens) with an arsenal of possible responses to life's situations. I can't count the number of times I've been forced to whirl around and confront someone by saying, "They drummed you out of Hollywood, so you come crawling back to Broadway. But Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope - now get out of my way, I've got a man waiting for me." To paraphrase a bumper sticker I once saw: Helen Lawson said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Helen also gave us the immortal words, "The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's me, baby, remember?" You gotta love her. Or has this ever happened to you? You're on the phone with your whining leech of a mother - you've just agreed to pawn your mink coat to help support the witch. You find yourself saying, as Sharon Tate's Jennifer North did, "Mother, I know I don't have any talent, I know all I have is a body and I am doing my bust exercises. I'll wire you the money first thing in the morning." Took the words right out of your mouth, didn't it? Better yet is the infamous performance by Patty Duke as pill queen Neely O'Hara as she sings "It's Impossible" - just watch the beads she's wearing. Keep watching those beads - you won't be sorry. Dialogue aside, the casting is abysmal, but that's part of the entertainment. The clothes, makeup, and hair are Fab, especially in the "Gillian Girl" montage starring the dreadful Barbara Parkins as Anne Welles. The sequence is a virtual encyclopedia of looks for us all to try out in the privacy of our bedrooms - or in Anne's case, the privacy of your own TV show. Valley of the Dolls is a great movie in the very same way that Showgirls is a great movie. Rent it and howl. - Stephen M. Moser

The Warrior Princess

D: Bruce Seth Green (1995)
with Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless, Michael Hurst

The Gauntlet

D: Jack Perez (1995)
with Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless, Robert Trebor, Matthew Chamberlain

Unchained Heart

D: Bruce Seth Green (1995)
with Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless, Michael Hurst, Robert Trebor

Hercules & Xena: The Battle for Mt. Olympus

D: Lynne Naylor
w/ voices of Kevin Sorbo, Lucy Lawless, Michael Hurst, Renee O'Connor

Hang on to your chakrams, cuz here comes the big three-episode Hercules: The Legendary Journey (HTLJ) arc billed as The Xena Trilogy, which introduces the saucy Warrior P and sets the cycle to spin-off. Each video contains extra footage not aired in the U.S. and a detailed episode guide, culled from the work of Robert Weisbrot, author of the refreshingly academic guidebooks for the Hercules and Xena TV series. When taken together, the three videos provide insight into the evolution of Xena and of Lucy Lawless as she battles the forces of evolving hairdos and American accents to define her signature role.

In the first episode, The Warrior Princess, Lawless seems a bit new to this kung-fu stuff, but viewers are introduced to her devilish sneer, patented "Yi-yi-yi!" war cry, and that brilliant morph of Brazilian samba and Bulgarian women's choir soundtrack by Joe Lo Duca. The plot involves the evil Xena and her band of thugs driving a wedge between Hercules (Sorbo) and faithful sidekick Iolaus (Hurst). Of course this fails, and Xena, pissed as ever, swears vengeance. In The Gauntlet, Xena's nutcase lieutenant Darphus (Chamberlain) leads a mutiny after Xena saves a baby's life. She is forced out of the bad boy club in an un-initiation rite involving a giant spanking machine where her previous subordinates get a crack at kicking her ass. Lawless, stripped down to leather underwear, begins to truly shine here, cutting a swath through the emotional gamut. Xena survives and teams up with Hercules to stop the renegades. The final episode, Unchained Heart, unchains a few more things, including X & H's libidos as manifested in some previously un-U.S.-released sexy scenes. After Xena killed the mutinous brute Darphus in the last episode, he is brought back to life by Ares for the purpose of killing Hercules. Darphus is also given this dog/lizard thing that eats people and grows into a temple-sized monster with the help of some of the best special effects on TV. Darphus' undoing is the ultimate dog-bites-man tale. (Universal also has released the original four two-hour Hercules telefeatures, two of which not only served to launch the beefcake TV series, but also to introduce future Xena stars Reneé O'Connor and Lucy Lawless in non-Xena roles. These titles, along with the new movie, Young Hercules, edition will be reviewed in a future edition of "Scanlines.")

The most talked-about title in the Universal lot is the long-awaited Hercules and Xena animated feature The Battle for Mount Olympus. Now, the word on the road to Corinth says pundit Xenites and animation snobs alike believe that the crude, angular cartoon style does not please the gods. But the stylized Space Ghost-meets-Ren & Stimpy in the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" look suits the dynamic deity-dashing duo perfectly. The saturated primary colors and simple, blobby backgrounds provide just the right amount of camp and kid-friendly cheesiness. On top of all this, it's a musical! The target audience seems to be Hardcase Nutballers and kids who might already be acquainted with the series. Renée O'Connor fans might be disappointed to learn that Gabrielle gets turned into a big bird early on and spends most of the movie squawking, flapping, and providing transportation to and from the top of Mount Olympus. Gab's eagle state, however, does make for a nice touch when Xena sings the big show tune power ballad to her. The big bird and warrior princess get to nuzzle and hug and pet and swoon without a hint of subtext.... - Kate X Messer

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